Where It All Began – Money

It is generally said that you should never talk about religion, money, or politics. Although I completely disagree as these are three of my most favorite topics to discuss regardless of your position, I do find that money seems to be the one least talked about amongst friends. I don’t think money should be discussed as a way to see who makes more money, who owns the biggest, fastest car, or who owns the biggest house. In all honesty, who really cares. I know I don’t and you probably don’t either.

Why aren’t we talking about money in the context of doing better to ensure that we are creating a lifestyle where we are less stressed, less burdened, and have less anxiety. Why aren’t we sharing savings strategies, investing strategies, and how we are preparing for the future and our inevitable reality that one day we will need to retire. We will need to retire either by option or by force (employer going out of business, fired or reduction in force, industry changes, health complications, unforeseen accidents, or a family emergency to name a few).

Even if you look at our primary educational system, you don’t find many subjects teaching the basic concepts of money, interest rates, investing, debt, debt-to-income ratios, the compounding of money, IRAs, 401(K)s, Roth, etc. I strongly feel this makes money a taboo subject and creates a society that is ill prepared for the future — and one that is in need and reliance of others. As a consumer oriented society, we are focused on getting that new iPhone, that new purse, the new XBOX or Playstation, the new car or bigger house. Why aren’t we just as excited in building an emergency fund that can keep us safe and sustain us from the small and big mishaps in our life such as the furnace not working, the transmission going out, or the job loss. What about that day when you can no longer work? Do you really want to put your livelihood in the government to take care of you while you are still working at 75? Is there a better way?

On occasion, I’ll get the question “hey Stephen, you talk a lot about money, how did you get started?” My answer is pretty simple, “slowly.” In all seriousness, it was three things that helped me most. The first is that my family grew up in fairly poor circumstances. The second is that my friend’s parents had the talk with me. The talk was “you need to save 10-15% of all your earnings for retirement.” At 16, I basically thought that was ill advice. I’m 16 and I only make $3.25 an hour. What difference is that going to make? The third happened during my Junior year in High School (Go Panthers! Class of 1994! Louisville, KY). For my elective, I selected one of their Business Programs. It was a competitive program to be accepted into and I was one of the fortunate ones.

How did these shape my future?

Poor Circumstances – as with many people that grow up in poor circumstances, you know what it is like to do without. You also find great joys in the little things and the small treasures that you find along the way (sorry mom. Yes, I did bring that broken cassette player out of someone’s trash home. I can make it work). Needless to say, I had the desire to not be poor when I grow up.

The Talk – Although I thought the advice was ridiculous at the time, it was a seed that was planted. Since I didn’t have a father figure in my life, my friend’s mom and dad (Kay and Danny) had a lot of influence over me — both directly and indirectly. When I got my first job, I did exactly what they suggested I do. I saved 10%. If I had to guess, it was probably a whopping $5.00 for that first week. But, the discipline was there. Later in my life, I then learned about a company match. Whoo Boy! Free Money! We’ll come back to this in a later post.

High School Business Program – The High School program was in partnership with one of the local businesses – Capital Holding at the time (renamed later to Providian then acquired by Aegon). In this program, we got to learn about business and economic societies including capitalism, socialism, and communism. We actually had to write papers that were then graded by the Executives of the sponsored organization. Also in this class, we learned about the stock market. As individuals and as a group, we picked a stock that we thought would outperform the others during the semester. We did our homework. We read about their business, we tried looking up the latest news related to the company, we read about the executives and tried to understand their short and long-term vision. With a fake $10,000 we all then bought the stock we were interested in as our investment into their company. At the end of the semester, my stock (probably by sheer luck) outperformed the others. We then took a field trip to Capital Holding and I, as the winner, got to place a real $10,000 stock order for that company — back then, you actually had to make a phone call. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had and I strongly felt that created a passion for investing and watching money grow over time.

Courier Journal, Page 26, 1993 February 20

That now brings us to today. I was fortunate early in my life where a few things set my path. If it wasn’t for these experiences, I’m not sure where I would be in my financial journey; probably spending and buying things I don’t need just to keep up with the Jones’ and continuing the rat race of stress and anxiety. I am beyond grateful for these initial experiences. They were foundational. But, I wasn’t positioned for success. I’ve been on a 25+ year journey and I still learn a lot of new things today. I am blessed to have the desire to learn and never settle as I know I can continue to do more and do better.

My personal finance posts are to help encourage others to start their financial journey today. Yes, today. Whether you are 16, 18, 20 or 45.

A lot has changed since I was 16 and later entering the workforce with an internship at 18. I hope that I can share a few tips and tricks along the way to help change your financial outlook. An outlook of financial independence and freedom. I’m not sure if I will make any difference in anyone’s life. But if I can change the future for just one, as others have done for me, it will all be worth it. View this post as MY TALK with you.

In the end, I’ve been blessed by these experiences. I hope I can bless you on your journey.


Stephen Legler

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